The Blizzard of 1952: During the storm … continued
Mon, 01/30/2017 - 10:55am admin
James E. Roghair
Mom was 35 that winter. She had taught school for only one year before she got married and moved to the farm. But like any elementary teacher, she was always prepared to entertain us children when we were cooped up in the house for long hours, or even days. I particularly remember cutting out pictures from catalogues and magazines, especially related to farming. We could arrange and rearrange the pictures all over the living room to create imaginary stories or scenes as we wished.
Mom got out paper dolls just when they were needed so we could dress them and populate our scenes. Perhaps we needed a little refereeing to make sure we didn’t get in each other’s way, but the living room seemed big enough for each or us to have our space. If we got tired of setting up the temporary scenes, we might cut out pictures and paste them more permanently into scrapbooks. There were also board games such as “Uncle Wiggly” and card games like “Hearts” or” Rook.” For the most part we kids got along.
If all else failed, Mom would discover that she needed a cup of shelled black walnuts. There was always a bag of the hard-shelled nuts in the attic, brought back from some trip to the West Coast. When we older kids needed a project, she would get out the bag, find the 10-inch piece of steel railroad track that Dad had salvaged from somewhere to use as an anvil, give us a hammer, a nut pick and a cup, and put us to work. We learned to hit the nuts on the stem end to get the best access to the meat inside, but always we had to dig with the nut pick to retrieve the tiny bits of nut. We tried to avoid getting pieces of shell into the cup, but some always made it into the baking anyway.
While Gene and I shelled nuts, Crysti helped get ready for the baking project. Mom was good about including all of us in the kitchen, and we all learned to cook. We always enjoyed the cookies or cake that included the walnuts even before they were baked. We licked the stirring spoon or scraped the dough from the inside of the mixing bowl. The work of getting the walnuts ready seemed like time well-spent. At my age, however, I didn’t realize how effective shelling walnuts could be to distract us from the boredom of being stuck in the house.
Dad was the best at whiling away hours waiting out a storm. Having only finished the eighth grade, he was nevertheless an avid reader. He would read almost anything, and then be ready to carry on a conversation on almost any subject. Regardless of how much noise three kids running around the house made, he sat in his chair, often with the radio playing, yet so absorbed in his reading that he might not even respond if we spoke to him. Mom spent hours in the kitchen, since being in a storm did not interfere with our appetites or expectations for regular meals. She also did a little sewing or mending but didn’t have much time for other distractions.
During this blizzard our telephone rang several times. It was the battery-powered crank telephone that Dad had installed and hooked up to a line with some of our neighbors. Unfortunately none of our relatives were connected. The whole system of 10 or 15 families was one party line, and was totally powered by the dry cell batteries in each phone. Everyone could hear every ring, composed of some combination of longs and shorts to indicate who the call was for. Although we all knew who was getting each call and might be curious to hear the conversation, we normally left others’ calls alone. We had been taught it would not be polite to be a rubberneck by listening in on calls. But Mom and Dad didn’t hesitate to let us know which of their friends they assumed were always rubbernecking.
Normal protocol forbidding rubbernecking didn’t prevail during this blizzard. Dad picked up the phone whenever it rang. Most of the calls were from the Van Rooyan farm house on the highway trying to contact the store in Okaton, but the parties about six or seven miles apart could not hear one another. Dad being about halfway between them was able to hear both sides of the conversation and to relay the messages. The store in Okaton which housed the post office had the only phone on our party line with a plug to connect to the larger Bell Telephone system. Mae Conger who lived with her sister Ann in an apartment in the back of the store owned and operated the store and post office with her sister’s help. Once in a while Mae was the telephone operator, as well. The calls that needed to be connected were from travelers stranded at the home on the highway wanting to let their families in distant places know they were safe. Dad learned that one of the travelers was a bread truck driver. So in the Van Rooyan home the dozen or more unexpected blizzard guests were safe and had ample bread for everyone.
The blizzard that started Monday morning continued until Tuesday evening, but eventually even a big storm like this one comes to an end. We had been cooped up in the house for two days. Our driveway and the roads connected to it were still impassable because of snow drifts six or more feet high, when the snow and wind stopped, but when sun came out Wednesday was a glorious day.
It was still cold, but we kids bundled up and went outside, surely to Mom’s relief. We discovered where the big snow drifts were and scrambled over them. We found our old sled, our toboggan, and the large steel butcher’s tray Mom let us use, and we went sliding down the hill near our front door, down to the edge of our frozen dam. We expended much pent-up energy walking up the hill and sliding down again. It was exhilarating. We didn’t think about the cold but absorbed the sunshine and had a great time.
About the same time we went out to sledding, Dad decided it was time to mount bareback our old horse Boots and go into Okaton. I’m not sure there was any particular piece of mail he had to get from the Post Office or any item needed from the grocery store. But riding the horse into town after the blizzard was a way of expressing that the storm had not stopped him. He and his family were well and accounted for. We had more days to wait before a big D-8 Caterpillar bulldozer came to open our roads, but we watched with excitement as the huge machine came roaring down our driveway to liberate us.
(To be continued next week)
James E Roghair, son of the late Ed and Margaret Roghair, lived near Okaton on their farm his first 14 years (1943-57) and still has many relatives in the area. He writes from Santa Fe, New Mexico.